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What Is The Zero-COVID Policy?

Context

Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, in 2019, the world has seen multiple repeated waves of COVID-19 infections.

This was largely driven by emerging variants of concern (VOCs) of the causative virus, SARS-CoV-2.

However, China remained successful in containing the disease’s spread until recently due to its zealous “zero-COVID” policy.

As a result of the abrupt repeal of the policy, the country is now experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Relevance

GS Paper – 2: Health, Government Policies & Interventions

Mains Question

The COVID-19 pandemic has called into question WHO’s authority to issue challenges to states during major outbreaks. In light of this statement, critically examine WHO’s role as a global health leader. (250 Words)


Policy Against COVID

What exactly is the Zero-COVID policy?

  • The policy calls for total control and maximum suppression of the virus through aggressive public health measures such as contact tracing, social isolation, mass testing, and lockdowns.
  • Under this policy, Chinese cities are directed to impose strict lockdowns and social isolation measures even if only a small number of cases are reported.
  • The strategy’s goal is to ensure that no new infections occur and that the virus is eradicated, allowing the country to resume normal social and economic activities.

What is the Zero-COVID policy?

  • Dynamic-zero has two components: prevention and containment.
  • Prevention
    • Early detection is emphasised through regular PCR tests, particularly in cities where a recent negative result may be required to enter a business or public facility.
    • Potential or suspected cases are quarantined at home or in a government-supervised facility.
  • Control o Control tactics include quarantining cases at government-supervised facilities and locking down buildings, communities, or even entire cities in order to quickly cut off transmission chains and prevent outbreaks.
    • China’s borders have been closed to most visitors since March 2020.
    • All nationalities are subject to seven days of quarantine at a facility and three days of home isolation upon arrival.

What were the consequences of such policy?

  • In order to eradicate the virus, draconian measures such as separating families and isolating people were being implemented.
  • As a result of the post-separation measures, the general public experienced emotional turmoil.
  • Because of administrative flaws, essential medical treatments were delayed. This prolonged the separation period.
  • This strategy appears to have failed due to the virus’s evolving nature. Because new coronavirus variants are becoming more transmissible, total eradication is impossible, and thus the zero Covid policy falls short of its goal.
  • Furthermore, the initial success of this policy relaxed authorities, resulting in mass under-vaccination and under-prepared medical infrastructure.
  • In other words, the zero Covid policy has succumbed to its own success.
  • China is currently experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases. The highly transmissible BF.7 strain of the Omicron variant appears to be responsible for the recent increase in Covid infections.
  • Cases have increased in China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Brazil. So far, four cases of Omicron subvariant BF.7 have been identified in India.

What exactly is the BF.7 variant?

  • The number 7 is an abbreviation for BA.5.2.1.7. It is a highly transmissible sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5. The variant is also known as Omicron Spawn. It has an R-value ranging from 10 to 18. This means that an infected person can spread the virus to 10 to 18 other people on average. The R-value for the Omicron variant ranged from 1 to 5.

Can India avoid the current wave of BF.7 variants?

  • Because of its Covid-zero policy, China has avoided epidemics like India. Millions of people were naturally immunised as a result of the three waves that occurred in India.
    • The Chinese population has not been exposed to natural infection, and the authorities have not used the opportunity to vaccinate the elderly.
    • Experts believe that most Indians have acquired hybrid immunity, which means immunity developed through vaccines as well as natural infection, protecting them from various Covid variants.
    • 7 is a sub-variant of Omicron with many of the same symptoms. The third wave in India was dominated by Omicron cases, and the vast majority of the population has a natural immunity to the virus.
    • Vaccination coverage is very high in India.
      • Vaccination rates in India are nearly 95% for at least one dose, and over 88% for both doses.
      • A subset of the eligible population received a third dose as well.
    • The efficacy of locally produced vaccines used in India has been widely acknowledged, and the majority of the population can be assumed to be adequately protected.
      • This contrasts sharply with China, which has used seven vaccines for mass vaccinations so far, including Sinovac and Sinopharm.
  • The protection provided by these vaccines is suspect; only two of the seven are WHO-listed; as a result, experts believe that India will not see a fourth wave.

February 2023
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